All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Women And The Girls by Laura Bloom

on January 27, 2021

The Women And The Girls 
Laura Bloom
Allen & Unwin
2021, 344
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Three friends. Three marriages left behind. Life begins in earnest.

It’s 1977, and warm, bohemian Libby – stay-at-home mother, genius entertainer and gifted cook – is lonely. When she meets Carol, who has recently emigrated from London with her controlling husband and is feeling adrift, and Anna, who loves her career but not her marriage, the women form an unexpected bond.

Their husbands aren’t happy about it, and neither are their daughters.

Set against a backdrop of inner-city grunge and 70s glamour, far-out parties and ABBA songs, The Women and The Girls is a funny, questioning and moving novel about love, friendship, work, family, and freedom.

It’s interesting, the 1970s is only slightly removed from when I was born (early 80s) but it’s a time where I don’t really feel like I know that much about what life in Australia was like at that time. I know much more about life during the First World War, or the 1930s, or the 40s and 50s….but once we get into the 1960s and 70s, I feel as though my knowledge drops off sharply and really all I have are a few stories my parents have told about their childhoods. But neither really talk a lot about it and definitely not in a broader sense, especially about the wave of feminism that swept through.

In this book Libby, Carol and Anna have children together at the same school in a suburb in Sydney. For different reasons, their marriages break down around the same time. Anna discovers something about her husband that changes everything. For Carol, her husband’s controlling and borderline abusive ways have become the last straw. And for Libby, she’s tired of parenting not just her own children, but also her husband as well, who doesn’t seem to see or appreciate her. The three women end up moving in to the investment property of Anna and her husband, which was formerly a boarding house – plenty of room for them all, plus their combined five children. Anna has two daughters, Carol one daughter and Libby a daughter and a son who has special needs. Three of the daughters are the same age and the combination of going to school together and living together in a kind of communal house, strains the friendship of the children enormously.

This was a fascinating idea. The women are all very different – Libby hasn’t worked for a while, staying at home full time to look after the children. Anna is more of a career woman and Carol did previously work but hasn’t since coming to Australia with her husband for what was supposed to be a better life. She has struggled to fit in, to make friends in the new area but there’s a moment that connects her to Libby. They are able to share the childcare and chores around the home, which allows them to work different schedules. The women also provide support to one another in what they’re all going through, although the friendship is not really of long standing and isn’t either rock-solid, nor hampered by a competition with each other. However the fact that women did move in together without perhaps really knowing a lot about each other and the fact that each of them are going through upheaval in their lives and also have different responsibilities and issues with their children, means that in some cases, there is tension and disagreements.

I enjoyed the exploration of the three marriages the women were in, all of which were very different. Anna and her husband enjoy a comfortable marriage where they appreciate each other but the intimacy has gone and although her husband seems content with it, Anna is not. She makes some steps to change it and is hit with a reality she never expected. Libby and Ben are probably a story that many are familiar with – Ben works hard and it’s taken over his entire life. He ducks out of family days and outings to call work, or note down ideas and is rarely present in their lives. This leaves Libby really frustrated as she carries the entire mental load of the family – it’s her that knows everything the children do in terms of their schedule and she also hosts gatherings that help her husband in his career. She’s tried talking to him and gotten nowhere and it’s frustration I think, that she’s not being heard, that makes her leave, rather than a real desire to actually separate from her husband. It was also like she felt left out, after Carol made a courageous decision to leave her husband and Anna’s discovery meant she was leaving too. The two women were moving in together and Libby kind of joined in as well, almost like she didn’t want to miss out on the experience!

There was one part of the story that I found a bit of a struggle to get my head around, it just didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. It might have I think, if it had been delved into a little deeper and developed a little more, especially the why but it kind of just popped up once or twice and then came to a head towards the end but in a way that didn’t feel as though it took up meaningful space in the story for me. It was kind of glanced over, which given what it was, felt just a bit odd.

All in all I found this an enjoyable read of a snapshot in a time that I really do need to read more of.

7/10

Book #11 of 2021

The Women And The Girls is book #4 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2021


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